By Anthony Onifade

18th Nov, 2023 | 1:10pm

Aston Villa star Nicolo Zaniolo has surely started last game for Italy for a while after what happened in last 24 hours

Aston Villa star Nicolo Zaniolo was handed a baffling call-up to the Italian side recently but may well have started his last game under Luciano Spalletti after what happened in their 5-2 win over North Macedonia.

Federico Chiesa scored two first-half goals as the defending champions triumphed on Friday (18 November) to gain a measure of revenge and move closer to qualifying for the European Championship next summer.

The Italians now need only a draw against Ukraine on Monday (20 November) to secure a spot at next year’s tournament in Germany.

And Zaniolo who came on as a second-half substitute had another cameo to forget in what’s been a difficult campaign so far for the Galatasaray loanee.

Signed on loan from Galatasaray during the summer, after injuries to both Ramsey and Emilian Buendia, the Italian international was supposed to provide Aston Villa with the cutting-edge influence in attack they needed to progress even further this season.

While the Villans are on track to do so, Zaniolo has proven rather anonymous so far in his Villa career, with the likes of John McGinn, Moussa Diaby and Ollie Watkins doing most of the dirty work.

In his nine Premier League games so far this season, he’s yet to register a single goal or an assist, has recorded just 0.7 key passes per game, registered zero big chances created and his shots on target per game are pretty woeful with just 0.4 [SofaScore].

His period in an Aston Villa shirt was made all the more concerning when he was forced to withdraw from the Azzurri training camp in Coverciano last month after police questioned him and Sandro Tonali regarding the recent Serie A betting scandal.

The Aston Villa forward has been questioned by the Turin Public Prosecutor’s Office and has continued playing football regularly while his counterpart Tonali is banned from all footballing activities for 18 months.

It seemed rather controversial for Spalletii to call up the former Roma man, not just for the betting scandal he is embroiled in right now but also for his woeful performances for Aston Villa in recent weeks.

The 3-1 win over Luton Town on 29 October further reflected just how much Zaniolo is struggling to acclimatise himself despite Aston Villa playing with such superb confidence right now.

A booking in the 28th minute was as exciting as it got for the attacker, who touched the ball 28 times but only completed six total passes in the end [Sofascore].

Playing on the left-hand side, creativity is key which Ramsey showed several times last season but Zaniolo has had none of that, attempting two crosses which both failed, as well as completing 0% of his attempted dribbles.

Losing possession eight times in 45 minutes told the full story, with the Italian only winning three of his 11 duels both on the ground and in the air.

In his 45 minutes on the pitch against Nottingham Forest (5 November) it was a similar theme, he had just 23 touches of the ball, recorded a pass accuracy of 78 per cent from the nine passes he played and lost possession 12 times [SofaScore].

The attacker had one shot on target, but he failed to find a teammate with the one cross he played into the box as he looked to provide creativity from the left-hand side and such form led Emery to axe him against Fulham.

And the Galatasaray loanee was axed from the starting eleven for Italy on Friday night too but came on for a brief 28-minute cameo. However, the Villa man enraged Spalletti, according to Italian news outlet TuttoSport (17 November).

They wrote: “Coming on in the 62nd minute in place of Federico Chiesa, who scored a brace, Nicolò Zaniolo was immediately caught by the boos at the Olympic stadium, which was his home for four and a half years. 

“On the pitch, then, he didn’t make an impact by stubbornly pursuing personalism as an end in itself and often losing possession of the ball. 

“An attitude that was not at all liked by coach Luciano Spalletti who even scolded him on one occasion: the number 20, with the team in difficulty and in the best moment of the visitors, lost the ball on the opponent’s midfield, remaining on the ground to protest and starting the opponent’s restart, which was then stopped by a recovery by Davide Frattesi. The Tuscan technician, furious, took him back shouting “get up”.

Image provided by TuttoSport

The 24-year-old is certainly enduring a tough spell in his career right now and it could well mean he may not start both at club level and for his country for a while.

In other Aston Villa news, Emery must stick with one Villa Park midfield maestro v Spurs on 26 November after his recent international masterclass.